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Urgent Manhunt for Suspected Bomber, Other Terrorists; Investigators Believe They've Identified Bomb-Maker; Interview with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Interview with Senator John McCain; Defense Secretary Carter Weighs in on Deadly Terror Attacks; Terrorism and Politics. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 23, 2016 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now:

Frantic manhunt. The search is on for a suspected bomber who escaped from the scene of the Brussels airport attack. Who is the man in the hat? What role did he play in the deadly terror strike?

Tracking the mastermind. Who planned the massacres? Is he still out there?

And what about the ISIS bombmaker tied to both the Paris and Brussels attacks? Did he design a powerful new explosive device that poses a much greater threat to soft targets?

Secretary of defense. Our exclusive interview with Ashton Carter who says America will be stepping up the fight against ISIS. But is Europe doing enough?

And politics of fear. The presidential candidates weighing in on the terror attacks, suggesting everything from mass surveillance to torture to nuclear strikes. Are they offering solutions to the ISIS threat or just sowing fear?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news: an urgent manhunt is under way across Belgium for a suspected bomber who got away from the scene of the bloody attack at the Brussels airport. And police are hunting for other members of the terror cell tied to the bombings at the airport and at a subway station. The death toll now is up to 31, 270 people were wounded.

Tonight, investigators are attempting to unwind a complex plot, involving multiple terrorists. CNN has learned two of the suicide bombers have been identified as brothers. One set off a bomb at the airport, the other at the metro.

Officials have now identified the third suicide bomber. They believe he built the bombs used in both the Brussels and the Paris attacks back in November, and a fourth man seen in a white jacket and hat is now the focus of an ongoing search. He allegedly escaped the airport after placing a bomb at the scene.

Was he the group's mastermind or a guide for the suicide bombers? Prosecutors say his device wheeled to the scene had the strongest explosives, what some experts now say was a hybrid of a suicide vest and a car bomb, a lethal new explosive that's both portable and powerful.

Tonight, U.S. officials say about a dozen Americans were injured in the attacks and that some U.S. citizens, including diplomats and their families, remain unaccounted for.

With members of the terror cell at large and ISIS threatening more attacks, the State Department has stepped up its warning to Americans to be careful traveling throughout Europe, not just to Belgium.

I'll speak with Senators John McCain and Tom Cotton. They have been briefed on the threat. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

We begin with new information on the manhunt, the investigation and the continuing threat.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight there is growing concern across Europe, are there more terrorists, are there more plots?


STARR (voice-over): Counterterrorism authorities are unraveling the network responsible for the bombings at the Brussels airport and subway, a network now believed to have clear links to the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

Investigators believe Salah Abdeslam arrested just days earlier in Brussels for his alleged role in the Paris attacks was likely going to be part of the attacks in Belgium.

MANUEL VALLS, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We are dealing with a terrorist organization, with its strong points, its resources hiding in our society.

STARR: Other ties between the Brussels and Paris terror cells, one of the two brothers who carried out the Brussels attack rented a safe house in Brussels used by Abdeslam after the Paris attacks and later raided by police. Brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui are two of the suicide bombers.

Brahim El Bakraoui is the man in the middle of the airport surveillance video. His brother, Khalid, is believed to have bombed the subway. The other two men captured in the airport video have not been publicly identified, but tonight multiple European officials tell CNN one of the two suicide bombers could be the alleged bomber, Najim Laachraoui.

Authorities are checking against DNA and fingerprint records. A key break came when a taxi driver led the police to the home where he picked up the three men he took to the airport. Investigators searched and found bomb-making materials, including acetone and hydrogen peroxide, also detonators, a suitcase full of nails and screws, and about 33 pounds of the explosive called TATP, enough to make several suicide vests.

Discovered in a Brussels trash can on the street nearby, a laptop.

[17:05:03] On it, one of the bombers' wills stating he's in a rush and if he takes too long, he will end up with him in jail. Belgian investigators believe he was referring to Salah Abdeslam. And another indication that once Salah Abdeslam was arrested, the cell rushed to strike.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Abdeslam's arrest helped them in the sense that it gave them an indication of what was about to happen. It also confirmed some of the suspicions that they had, but they didn't know the precise details.

STARR: Investigators now searching frantically for anyone else connected to the network.

FREDERIC VAN LEEUW, BELGIAN FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (through translator): The third suspect wearing a light jacket and hat is on the run. He put down a large bag, then left before the explosion. His bag contained the largest explosive charge.

STARR: And tonight he remains unidentified, whereabouts unknown.


STARR: And tonight, Wolf, security and intelligence services across Europe struggling to stay one step ahead of whatever terrorists may be out there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thanks very much.

I want to bring in our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. She's also getting new information.

What are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We've learned two of the suicide bombers were brothers and that there were missed warning signs along the way. We've learned from Turkish authorities that one of the brothers, Brahim Bakraoui, he was at the airport, we saw him in that surveillance photo, that he was deported from Turkey last year.

In fact, the Turkish president reportedly said that they alerted Belgium saying that he was a foreign fighter, but that Belgium allegedly ignored their warnings. And then you have the other brother, Khalid Bakraoui, who was at the metro stop and blew himself up there. He had an Interpol red notice issued for him just this year on terrorism charges.

And now, we're learning, Wolf, that another suspect was tied to the Paris attacks. His DNA was found on two of the suicide belts in the Paris attacks. So the big question now, how was -- how was all of this missed? The Belgian prosecutor today saying they were aware of the two brothers but they only knew about their ties to violent crime, not to terrorism.

And so, right now, investigators are going back trying to figure out how these men were able to operate under the radar following Paris when the city and country was on such high alert and then launch these attacks in Brussels yesterday morning.

BLITZER: There were a lot of missed signals, I must say, as they go back and try to learn from those mistakes. And they indeed have to.

Pamela, thank you very much.

Let's go live to Brussels right now. Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is on the scene for us.

Clarissa, what's the latest that you're hearing about this second suicide bomber at the airport?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can now say that that suicide bomber is Najim Laachraoui. If you look at that photograph of that surveillance video that we've been showing all day, he is the one on the left of the screen, on the far left. He is 24 years old. He was born in Morocco.

Certainly, it will come as something of a relief now that we know he was killed in those explosions because he wasn't just responsible for these Brussels attacks, Wolf, he was actually very involved with the Paris attacks, believed to have been the man actually putting together those bombs with those homemade improvised explosive TATP. This can be obtained by buying nail polish remover. It's a peroxide base. You can find it in hair bleach even.

And this guy really a bad guy, Wolf. We know that he traveled to Syria in 2013. He was spotted and stopped at the Austria-Hungary border last September with Salah Abdeslam, the other Paris attacker who was arrested here last Friday, and there was also an Interpol red alert out for this man. He was wanted in conjunction with engineering of explosives and with terrorist activities.

So, certainly, it will come to a relief to many here that he is now known to be dead. He was very much the focus of the manhunt because, of course, he is the one believed to have the expertise in forming these crudely made explosives. And we know that he was very involved with the Paris attacks as well as these Brussels attacks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa, what else are you learning about that man on the run right now, seen in the light-colored jacket in that airport surveillance image, the man all the way to the right with the hat on?

WARD: Well, Wolf, we still don't know the identity of this man on the far right. We know that there is a major manhunt ongoing for him. He's particularly distinctive not just because he's wearing a light- colored jacket as well as glasses and a hat, potentially trying to disguise his identity, but he's the only one of the three who is not wearing one glove. Those gloves believed to have concealed the detonators that would have set off those explosives.

Now, his suitcase contained the largest amount of explosives.

[17:10:00] We don't know whether he got cold feet, whether the bomb simply didn't go off, but certainly it's fair to say, Wolf, that Belgian authorities are under a huge amount of pressure at the moment.

They are keeping very quiet and very tight lipped, not telling the media anything for fear of interfering with their larger investigation. But what is becoming clearer and clearer, Wolf, is that many of these men were well-known to authorities, both in a criminal capacity and in a terrorist capacity, and many people here are asking how they were able to slip under the radar and elude capture for so long, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward on the scene for us in Brussels. Thank you.

Joining us now, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He serves on the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee, he's a U.S. Army veteran, an officer that served both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: This man who has not yet been identified with the hat and light jacket, have you been told who he is, what they suspect?

COTTON: Wolf, I don't want to get into the details of the investigation as it's ongoing. One thing, though, that's increasingly clear from the reports we just heard from Pamela and Clarissa is these were not unknown terrorists. This was not a sleeper cell. These were known terrorists that slipped through the grasp of Belgian and European authorities. And that's very worrisome.

BLITZER: Known to whom? Who knew about these guys?

COTTON: Well, the Belgian authorities, it's very clear, based on the reporting we've just heard.

BLITZER: How long have they known about these individuals?

COTTON: Well, you had to say, at least going back to the Paris attacks in November.

BLITZER: And they couldn't find them? They couldn't arrest these individuals?

COTTON: Well, no, obviously not.

BLITZER: Well, what does that say to you?

COTTON: Well, it says that there are some gaps in the Belgian authorities' capabilities but also Europe's capabilities. Ultimately, it says you can't win the war on terror playing a prevent defense. You have to go on offense. To expect to be able to stop, say, every terrorist that rolls a piece of luggage to an airport is like trying to stop an NFL defense to be able to stop every goal line stand, which first goal from the 3. You have to go to the root of the problem and the root of the problem is the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, increasingly in places --

BLITZER: I understand that, but there are hundreds of -- supposedly hundreds of these terrorist sleeper cells, if you will, already not only in Belgium but throughout Europe.

COTTON: Well, again, I wouldn't even say they're sleeper cells if they're well known to the Belgian authorities. Abdeslam was caught on Friday.

BLITZER: Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in the Paris attacks.

COTTON: He was involved in the Paris attacks.

BLITZER: He was on the run for four months but he was hiding in plain sight.

COTTON: Yes. It would be like if people were looking for me in the streets of Dardanelle where I grew up and no one was willing to turn me over. That's a real problem that Belgian and European authorities have.

BLITZER: Is there a code of silence among these individuals, people in the Muslim community, for example, in Brussels? Because that's what has been widely suspected.

COTTON: I think you have to really ask serious questions about the kind of work that the European countries have done to integrate Muslim immigrants into their cultures. And in places like Molenbeek or in some of the suburbs around Paris, it's pretty clear they haven't done a very good job. Certainly not the kind of job that we've done here in America.

BLITZER: This other individual who's blown up, Najim Laachraoui, the alleged bombmaker. If he's if you look at the photo, the surveillance photo he's all the way to the left.

Now, normally, the bombmakers, they don't want to kill them because they need bombmakers for future terror attacks. Why do you think he agreed to blow himself up if he was a master bombmaker?

COTTON: Yes, you're right, Wolf, it's very unusual for a bombmaker, which is hard to learn, you can't just mix nail polish remover and hydrogen peroxide in your sink in your apartment in Belgium and learn that. That's why he -- in part, he was in Syria for two years and then he came back to Europe it's believed in the flow of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

It's possible that they felt the plot might be compromised by the capture of Salah Abdeslam on Friday and they accelerated the attack, and they had no other option.

BLITZER: Is that the working assumption?

COTTON: It's possible, yes.

BLITZER: Because Salah Abdeslam was finally captured and there were reports out that he was talking, he was cooperating, if you will, although clearly he wasn't cooperating enough to advise them that this attack at the airport and at the metro station was about to take place, that they decided, you know what, it's over, let's go kill ourselves?

COTTON: That's certainly one possibility. It's hard to get into the minds and into the head of someone who would blow himself up and kill innocent civilians. Or make bombs to blow himself and kill innocent civilians. But also again I get back to the root of the problem, which is the growing safe haven the Islamic State has across Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Again, you can't just learn how to make bombs in your sink. You have to go somewhere and have training and have the safe space that you can find in places like Iraq and Syria.

BLITZER: The working assumption is that there is a direct link between the November Paris attacks and what happened this week in Brussels. Is that your assumption?

Similar individuals, all working with the same, shall we say, leader, if you will, the same operatives?

COTTON: Same leaders or same operatives. The bomb maker who's now been reported wasn't one of the suicide bombers, his DNA was on some of the bombs in Paris as well so there's increasingly strong links to these attacks. It's been four months since the Paris attacks and the Belgian authorities weren't able to stop this attack, which raises real questions about our European partners' capabilities.

BLITZER: Well, specifically Belgium, apparently, the cooperation between various elements in Europe not what it should be by all accounts, and you're well-briefed on this.

[17:15:10] The State Department issued a pretty rare, I shall say, extraordinary warning to Americans thinking of traveling not just to Belgium but to all of Europe to be alert for what they call near term attacks.

Near term attacks means almost imminent. It's pretty extraordinary what they're saying. Be careful when you go to a restaurant, be careful when you go to tourist attractions, be careful when you go to sporting events in Europe. That basically saying to me if I'm thinking of going, maybe it's not a good time to go to Europe. COTTON: I think all Americans should heed that warning. Now, as time

progresses and the intelligence improves and we take stock of different countries, there may be more granular warnings. For instance, London and Dublin are in the visa-free travel zone. Or Norway is a small and homogeneous country, so you might expect some finer gradations on this warning.

But almost every country in Europe is facing a migrant crisis, many of whom have been -- or some of whom have been involved in the attacks in Paris and Brussels.

BLITZER: When they say near term attacks, is there specific and credible information that there will be more attacks in the coming days and weeks that they know about plots that are under way?

COTTON: Wolf, I don't want to get into that sensitive intelligence, but I do think that the American people should have concerns and they should heed this warning that went out from the State Department.

BLITZER: If your constituents in Arkansas call you and say, Senator, is it a good time for me to go to Paris or Rome or Brussels -- you would say?

COTTON: You might want to reconsider. If you do go, though, you want to heed the advice of the State Department and the local embassy about safe places to go and times to go to those places.

BLITZER: Stand by. We have more to discuss. I know you're well- briefed on all of this.

We'll take a brief break. Much more with Senator Cotton when we come back.


[17:21:05] BLITZER: We're back with Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. He's a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Salah Abdeslam, one of the terrorists who was involved in the Paris attacks but apparently left his vest behind ran away, escaped. He was on the run for four months. As we said earlier, hiding in plain sight in Brussels.

He was picked up the other day supposedly. We've been told he was going to be part of this new effort with these other individuals to blow up various places inside Brussels. So, the question is, he is now under arrest. He's being questioned. Supposedly, he's cooperating.

Would it be wise to do to him what Donald Trump has recommended, basically torture him to get more information, because clearly he knows a lot.

COTTON: Well, Wolf, America doesn't torture. We never have tortured. It's a violation of our laws and international norms as well. BLITZER: What about waterboarding? Is that torture?

COTTON: I don't think waterboarding is torture.

BLITZER: So, would you support waterboarding this individual to get more information?

COTTON: I mean, it's not something you'd do for fun, but if experienced and expert interrogators go to the president and say, we think this is a ticking time bomb situation and this is a technique that elicit information, that's going to help stop the attack -- then, yes, that's a tough call. But the president has a tough job, and tough -- if you don't want to make tough calls, you shouldn't seek that job.

But, Wolf, it's important to know that American soldiers volunteer to be waterboarded almost every month as a part of their training. We don't torture our own personnel in our military and nobody volunteer (INAUDIBLE) tortured

BLITZER: But it was under the law now, it is considered torture, waterboarding. It could be changed.

COTTON: So techniques are limited to the army field manual, which is unfortunately widely available online.

BLITZER: The military personnel, when you served, never did waterboarding, that was left to civilians at the CIA.

COTTON: It was only done in the intelligence agencies in a very limited set of circumstances. The leadership of those agencies said that it did elicit useful information.

Now, there is a practical debate. You can say it may not be effective or it maybe counterproductive, but I don't think you can something that our soldiers volunteer to undergo is torture.

BLITZER: Based on everything you know, did waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others provide useful, valuable information?

COTTON: Well, senior CIA officials have said it did. They were there, they were present, I was not. I trust their judgment.

BLITZER: As far as enhanced interrogation techniques, that's what the play phrase what some call torture, Donald Trump says he would go further than waterboarding, he would actually use torture in this war against ISIS. Would you?

COTTON: Well, no. Again, the United States does not torture nor have we ever tortured. But there are techniques beyond just asking politely or asking to a lawyer that we can use, like sleep deprivation and like playing loud music every now and then.

Again, I don't think most Americans will object to those things. Nor do I think we should rule out of bounds techniques that our military personnel willingly volunteer to undergo in a situation like you saw here.

On Friday morning, the Belgian authorities captured a terrorist operative. On Tuesday morning, his cohorts killed over 30 people in Belgium.

If that happened in the United States, the American people would rightly ask a lot of tough questions about the kind of interrogation techniques that were used in that 96-hour period.

BLITZER: And they'd want to know if more plots are in the works right now and is this individual talking about them. If not, what else can be done?

You're saying enhanced interrogation techniques might be useful.

COTTON: If the experts who have been interrogating terrorists for decades say we need to deprive this person of sleep or we need to use other techniques that are not torture, then I would say as the president, yes, you should do that.

It's a tough job. You've got to make tough calls sometimes.

BLITZER: There are reports that ISIS has trained and I'm reading from this report, at least 400 fighters to target Europe right now and that some of these terrorists may actually have been trained in what's called the former Soviet bloc.

You're well-briefed on this. What can you share with us on that?

COTTON: Well, the former Soviet bloc was run in large part by the KGB. So, they're well-trained in interrogation techniques and how to resist them. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, our techniques are limited to what's in the army field manual and that's widely available online.

BLITZER: But were some of these terrorists on large plotting terrorist operations in Europe trained in the former Soviet bloc?

[17:25:07] COTTON: If you mean by those countries --

BLITZER: By countries -- by individuals and countries, in what was once the Soviet Union and it's --

COTTON: It's certainly possible that you have citizens of those countries receiving training either in those countries or in Syria or Iraq. That's a possibility. I mean, there are a large number of citizens of almost every European country in the former -- or in the West and in the former Warsaw pact nations.

BLITZER: All right. Let me move on and play this little clip. This is the president of the United States. He had very tough words for Senator Cruz today. I want to play this clip for you.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as the notion of having surveillance of neighborhoods where Muslims are present, I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance. Which, by the way, the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America.


BLITZER: The point being that Cruz has proposed law enforcement patrolling what he described as Muslim neighborhoods. The president says that's a bad idea. You say?

COTTON: Senator Cruz can speak for himself. I will say here in the United States, we've always done a better job of integrating immigrants from all around the world, to include immigrants from Muslim lands. And we have a high degree of cooperation assistance from our Muslim citizens with law enforcement agencies like the FBI. We need to make sure that continues so those very communities aren't subject to radicalization attempts by the Islamic State.

But I would say about Barack Obama, yesterday, in the middle of a terrorist attack, when we didn't know if an attack was stopped or not, when Americans were missing and maimed, he went to a baseball game in Havana with Raul Castro and did the wave and did an interview on ESPN wearing sunglasses comparing himself to Big Papi.

I live Big Papi as well, but he's the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. It's not his job --


BLITZER: If he were to cancel those activities, don't the terrorists win?

COTTON: No. He's the president of the United States. It is his job to help keep Americans safe.

If other Americans are in Florida for spring training to take their kids to a baseball game, then they should go forward with that. The president should have simply gone to our embassy in Havana and made sure that every element of the United States government was working to assist the Belgian and European authorities to prevent a future attack.

BLITZER: You were at a small meeting earlier this week with Donald Trump and some other lawmakers. Were you impressed by what you heard from the Republican presidential front-runner and are you ready to endorse him?

COTTON: No, I'm not endorsing anyone in the race right now or Donald. You know, it was a private meeting, I don't want to characterize it. It wasn't much different, though, than much of what Mr. Trump has said in public.

BLITZER: What do you think of his foreign policy views? What he said publicly. Forget about what he told you privately.

COTTON: Like any of the candidates, I have my agreements and I have disagreements as well. BLITZER: What's your biggest concern about him?

COTTON: Well, I think Donald has taken some positions on foreign policy that I would not go as far on.

For example, he said that we're spending way too much on NATO. I don't think the problem is that the U.S. spends too much on NATO. I think the problem is that Europe doesn't spend enough. In the Cold War, it was a 50-50 divide. It's now a 70-30 divide.

Rather than reducing our expenditures on NATO, which has been a great suspect over the last 70 years, we need to encourage Europe to spend enough on NATO to stop the kind of terrorist attacks we've seen in Europe this week.

BLITZER: And NATO should get more involved in this war against ISIS, too. They're not as an organization involved.

Senator Cotton, thanks for coming in.

COTTON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to get another perspective when we come back.

Senator John McCain is standing by live. There he is. We'll get his thoughts of what's going on in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks when we come back.


[07:33:07] BLITZER: Our breaking news, an urgent manhunt under way right now for a suspected bomber in the Brussels attacks and other possible terrorist cell members at large right now.

Joining us now, the chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican senator John McCain of Arizona.

Senator, thanks as usual for joining us. I guess the simple question is this: do you know whether this latest terror attack in Brussels was either ISIS-inspired or, as a lot of us suspect, directly ordered by the ISIS leadership in Raqqah, Syria, where they're headquartered?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No, I don't know the answer to that, but it -- the sophistication of the operation, the capabilities that they have shown, in fact the extent that this operation has been operating in two countries clearly indicates an operational level that it would certainly be logical to assume that the inspiration and perhaps significant degree of the planning came from Raqqah, Syria. Could I --

BLITZER: Go ahead, go head, Senator. Finish your thought.

MCCAIN: I think we know, we know for sure that they are training young men to go into the refugee flow, and for the exact purpose of committing acts of terror. We know that for sure. And, of course, that's logic. And that brings us back to this root cause, which is our failure to take out Raqqah and Mosul because as long as they have a geographic base to export terrorism, then they're going to do it. Including -- we have information, public information that they are -- established a chemical weapons factory there in Raqqah. So it goes back to our failure to address the issue seriously of the Islamic state having a geographic base.

BLITZER: If the U.S. knows there's a chemical weapons factory there in Raqqah, why not simply drop a bomb on it?

[07:35:04] MCCAIN: Well, I not sure they know where it is. As we found out when we took -- when we have regained some territory that we - that they are capable of digging underground and protecting themselves, as you know.

So it's not so easy to take it out from the air. Air power alone does not win conflicts. You're going to have to have boots on the ground. And some of those boots, like 10,000 out of 100,000-person military, would have to be American boots on the ground. You're going to have to go in on the ground to take them out.

BLITZER: Where are the other 90,000 going to come from?

MCCAIN: From Sunni-Arab countries, ranging from Turkey to Saudi Arabia to others. And right now, that's very difficult because there is a failure and a vacuum of American leadership. If there was American leadership, we could lead these other countries into what is clearly their interest, and that is to destroy ISIS at their headquarters.

BLITZER: Donald Trump says in order to destroy ISIS, he would go beyond waterboarding, which is now illegal. Other enhanced interrogation techniques. He would actually engage in what he even describes as torture to get information from these terrorists who are prisoners.

You were a prisoner of war for five years in Vietnam. Do you agree with him that these kinds of torture techniques should be used against these ISIS terrorists, especially if they're plotting some sort of attack?

MCCAIN: Wolf, it would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which we are largely the authors of which are -- I've forgotten how many tens of nations -- or 50 or 100 nations -- are signatories to. Second of all, it would be in violation of the law which we passed 93- 3 on the Defense authorization bill that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, which waterboarding fits into.

And I might remind you at the end of World War II, we hung -- tried and hung Japanese war criminals who had inflicted this kind of torture on American prisoners. And one of the charges was that they had waterboarded. And also the point is, I think anybody who has been engaged in this firsthand will tell you that you don't get good information. You only get what the person who is being tortured thinks will make the torture stop. And that is the case -- that is fact. But if you do this, if you do this, what about the people that do it?

What does it do to them? And then what does it say about us? How are we then different from the people that we dislike and hate so much that are doing such terrible things?

BLITZER: If after hearing what Donald Trump has said about waterboarding and torture, could you see yourself actually supporting him if he were the Republican presidential nominee?

MCCAIN: I've said many times that I will support the nominee of the party. I've disagreed with other nominees on specific issues. I will do the best that I can to help any president as we are facing the greatest crises since the end of World War II. That doesn't come from John McCain. That comes from the director of national intelligence, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Clapper, just a couple of weeks ago.

I have to work with any president to try to prevent attacks -- further attacks on the United States of America, which I will tell you right now is probably going to happen. Most likely going to happen because of a failure of this president's leadership in allowing all of this to happen beginning with withdrawing everybody from Iraq.

BLITZER: Why isn't NATO as an organization involved in this war to destroy ISIS?

MCCAIN: Again, one is American leadership, again. But the other, of course, is that these nations are not doing well. I mean they are -- they are not cohesive, they haven't spent as much time on defense and money on defense. They have not had American leadership there, and they're not pulling their own weight. We all know that. But to -- but the answer is not to withdraw from NATO, it's to strengthen NATO. And maybe after these attacks, you will see much more cohesion.

By the way, General Breedlove, our commander of our forces in Europe, said that Vladimir Putin is using the refugees to dismantle the European Union.

BLITZER: All right. Senator McCain, we've got to unfortunately leave it there. Let's resume this conversation in the days ahead.

John McCain joining us -- thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news we're following. A suspected bomber now on the run after escaping from the Brussels terror attacks.

[17:40:00] Is he an ISIS mastermind and is he now planning future attacks?


BLITZER: All right. Just into THE SITUATION ROOM: we're getting exclusive reaction to the terror attacks in Belgium from the defense secretary, Ashton Carter.

CNN's Carol Costello just wrapped up an interview with the secretary.

Carol, what's he saying to you about the efforts to fight ISIS right now?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of interesting things, Wolf. I sat down with Ash Carter at West Point where he spoke with the future leaders of our military. He told me Europe needs to accelerate its efforts to defeat ISIS, along with the United States.

[17:45:03] It's not enough for Europe to protect its borders. It has to join the United States' efforts in earnest in Iraq, in Syria, actually wherever ISIS exists.


ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's not enough that we defeat them in Iraq and Syria. What Brussels tells us is that they have sympathizers, people who are Belgians or French who live there already and, therefore, an important part of the fight is also going to be a homeland security and intelligence and a law enforcement fight. Now that's not what the Department of Defense does, but that's important as well.

The other thing I think that the Brussels event is going to further signify to Europeans is that they -- as we have been accelerating our campaign to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere, they need to accelerate their efforts and join us.

COSTELLO: Some suggest that we should revisit the subject of torture to get information faster. Is that a good idea?

CARTER: The -- all of our military and intelligence leaders have spoken on this. We in the Department of Defense follow the Army Field Manual. It does not allow torture. And America conducts itself in accordance with its values --

COSTELLO: Does torture work?

CARTER: That's important. The experts there who have laid down our policy in that area have agreed for both effectiveness reasons and for reasons of reflecting our own values that we're not going to do that sort of thing.


COSTELLO: OK. So no torture and no carpet bombing. Ash Carter says it goes again American policy and expertise. As for, you know, how America is accelerating its efforts to defeat ISIS, he brought up Mosul, right. Mosul, the second largest city within Iraq. He says that the United States military will begin helping Iraqi forces retake that city from ISIS in earnest. He says the United States will also focus in Raqqa, Syria, which is ISIS' de facto capital.

As for how Europe can step up its efforts to help the United States, Secretary Carter says he understands Europe doesn't have the military capability that we have and he says that's fine, but it can do other things like help rebuild cities destroyed by ISIS, help locals govern themselves, and of course Europe can help with money, as in funding those things -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good ideas. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Let's take a quick break. Much more news right after this.


[17:52:11] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A massive manhunt under way right now for a suspected bomber who escaped after the attacks in Brussels. Meanwhile, here in the United States, the candidates for president are doing their best to respond to the disturbing developments in Europe.

CNN's Phil Mattingly reports.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Terror and politics once again inextricably linked.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not about patrolling neighborhoods. It's not about shutting our borders down.

MATTINGLY: Twin bombings in Brussels, like the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino shining a spotlight on the 2016 candidates. GOP frontrunner Donald Trump saying when it comes to foreign policy, he will keep U.S. enemies guessing.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we need unpredictability. The enemy. We have enemies. ISIS is an enemy. And I frankly don't want the enemy to know how I'm thinking.

MATTINGLY: Going all in on the use of torture.

TRUMP: I think we have to change our law on, you know, the waterboarding thing where they can chop off heads and they can drown people in cages and heavy steel cages and we can't waterboard.

MATTINGLY: And considering the use of a nuclear weapon against ISIS.

TRUMP: I'm never going to rule anything out.

MATTINGLY: Ted Cruz under pressure from New York City police officials.

WILLIAM BRATTON, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: The statements he made today is why he's not going to become president of this country.

MATTINGLY: Defending his own proposals to increase police patrols in the U.S. Muslim neighborhoods.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, it is that ostrich head in your sand political correctness that has made America so vulnerable.

MATTINGLY: Hillary Clinton challenging both in a sweeping foreign policy speech in California today.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't let fear stop us from doing what's necessary to keep us safe. Nor can we let it push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe.

MATTINGLY: Each candidate fighting for position in the wake of the western Tuesday contests. A day that saw Hillary Clinton come closer to locking up the Democratic nomination.

CLINTON: I'm also very proud to have won Arizona tonight.

MATTINGLY: A delegate split in the GOP. Ted Cruz winning Utah and Donald Trump dominating in Arizona. Another primary night raising questions about the effectiveness of the stop Trump efforts.

Cruz securing the endorsement of former GOP candidate Jeb Bush. Pointing to it as another sign the party is coalescing behind his candidacy.

CRUZ: What we're seeing all across the country is the momentum is with us. And I'll tell you one of the things that shows that is this morning, Jeb Bush endorsed our campaign.

MATTINGLY: All coming after a night punctuated by a Twitter exchange introducing a traditionally off-limits element into the campaign, candidates spouses, sparked by an anti-Trump super PAC Facebook ad showing an old modeling photo of his wife Melania. Ted Cruz defending his wife just like a scene in the "American President."

MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR, "THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT": You want a character to debate, Bob, you better stick with me because Sydney Alan Wade is way out of your league.

[17:55:02] CRUZ: And if Donald wants to get in a character fight, he's better off sticking with me because Heidi is way out of his league.

MATTINGLY: Heidi Cruz even weighing in on the matter herself.

HEIDI CRUZ, WIFE OF TED CRUZ: You probably know by now that most of the things that Donald Trump says have no basis in reality so we are not worried in the least. We're focusing on our campaign.


MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, while Ted Cruz and his campaign have looked to move beyond last night's Twitter dust-up, Donald Trump still keeping at it, rolling out a string of attacks on Ted Cruz just recently including one that says not unlike how Cruz tries to steal from Donald Trump's foreign policy, he steals movie lines from Michael Douglas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Phil Mattingly. Coming up, more on the search for the suspected bomber who escaped

from the scene of the Brussels airport.